Healing Line

Healing Line

Report on our Trip to Rome

by Francis MacNutt
Jan/Feb 2002

Now that Judith and I have returned from Rome, after taking part in what was termed an "historic" Colloquium on healing prayer in the Roman Catholic Church, I would like to bring you up to date and share what happened, summarizing the meeting as simply as I can.

First, a little background might help, especially for those of you not familiar with what has been happening in the Roman Catholic Church in regard to Charismatic Renewal and the healing ministry in particular. (Although most of our readers are not Catholic, the same basic tension between charismatic and institutional elements affects all the major denominations.)

1. An astonishing change has taken place in the past 40 years in regard to praying for healing. Back then very few Catholics prayed with the sick with a lively expectation that healing might occur. I remember people being surprised in 1967 that I, a young priest (i.e., in my 40's), was praying with the sick that they might be healed. "Are you a faith healer?" they would ask in surprise. Since those days, a startling change in attitude has come about, and now many priests (and also some laypeople, such as Barbara Shlemon–Ryan) hold healing services.

But what is also true is that this charismatic/healing renewal has reached a plateau and that the majority of bishops and priests do not really understand the healing and deliverance ministries and that most seminaries do not teach anything about these vital aspects of Christ's mission.

This particular meeting in Rome, though, may indicate that a quantum leap lies in the future — at least we hope so. As John Allen, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter writes: "Though you didn't read about it in the world press, a remarkable summit took place... a three–day session brought together curial heavyweights and some of the key figures of one of the most controversial spiritual currents in post–Vatican II Catholicism... An all–star lineup from the charismatic world, above all, from the United States, was present."

As I mentioned in the last Newsletter, about 120 of us were invited to participate. Only four did not come, which shows an extraordinary degree of interest, considering that everyone had to pay for their travel to Italy.

For Judith and me, the conference was a real learning experience, because the important communication was in diplomatic terms: it wasn't what was said directly in the talks but in what was communicated indirectly simply by looking at the lineup of speakers who represented the most important offices in the Vatican, including several bishops. We were told by people familiar with the Roman scene that these officials would not convene a meeting, nor have time to address people like us, unless they believed that the charismatic renewal had achieved enough significance to warrant a real dialogue. That was the real message of the Colloquium.

The conference itself we found difficult because some of the speakers did not have a real first–hand acquaintance with the healing ministry and we, of necessity, had to listen to translations of highly technical talks from Italian, French and Spanish texts, but yet we realized that the conference was very positive because it signified that the Catholic Church in its institutional aspects is ready to engage in a mutually beneficial exchange of views. The Pope (John Paul II) has said that the charismatic and institutional aspects of Christianity should not be seen as opposed but are simply different aspects that must work together. Catholic charismatic groups have distinguished themselves by their loyalty and have impressed Church authorities by really demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. We were told, for example, that 60% of the seminarians in Latin America come from charismatic groups, so now the authorities express a desire to learn more about why.

As John Allen (quoted earlier) writes:

Charismatics "worry about the repression of new ideas, of spontaneity and responsiveness to the Spirit, in the name of maintaining clerical control. They want leaders to be more open to the experience, the sense of faith, bubbling up from below. They insist that priestly ordination is not the only . way God marks someone as a channel of grace. That these ideas were given such a prominent hearing by the curia ... strikes me as good news — in its own way, perhaps, a kind of miracle."

We were particularly impressed with Cardinal Stafford, President of the Congregation of the Laity, who convened the Congress (in collaboration with the International Catholic Charismatic leadership, headquartered in Rome). An American, Cardinal Stafford patiently attended the entire program (7 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day). In addition, Judith and I were privileged to spend three hours with him before the Colloquium began and found him to be an excellent listener, as well as very knowledgeable about the early history of the Church.

From a personal point of view, a highlight was meeting many friends I had not seen since before Judith and I married: Ralph Martin, Fr. Tom Forrest, and Sister Briege McKenna, to name just a few. Then there were leaders I hadn't seen since speaking in Australia, Japan and the Philippines and various other countries back in the 70's. We were expecting that some might still show some disapproval of our marriage, in spite of our current good standing in the Catholic Church, but, instead, we expenenced a great and universal welcome that was very healing for us personally. I was also honored by being asked after the Colloquium ended to write a follow–up report, trying to state clearly and positively what the charismatic leaders believed should be conveyed to Church leaders on the need for reviving the healing ministry.

It might interest you to know that of the 120 delegates to the conference, I estimate that perhaps eight were bishops, 35 were priests and the rest laypeople (of whom perhaps 20 were women). These delegates were all involved in the charismatic renewal. Then perhaps 10 speakers, including four bishops, addressed us on a more theoretical level.

The talks of substance were mostly given by the Church officials, while the charismatics were asked to give testimonies, so it was like two different tracks — one more intellectual, the other more narrative and experiential. The tone of the first group was naturally often cautionary; the tone of the second group was more enthusiastic. These two groups were very different in background, outlook and experience. But the wonderful thing was that there was a meeting.

And, hopefully, there may be another!

Francis and Judith
with Rachel and David

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jan/Feb 2002 Issue